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Getting Sipadan permits may not be as hard as it seems

Ever since the late Jacques Cousteau quoted in 1988 “I have seen other places like Sipadan, 45 years ago, but now no more. Now we have found an untouched piece of art”, diving in Sipadan Island has been on the bucket list for many divers as it is one of the best diving destinations in the world.

Fast forward a few decades, untouched it wasn’t.

Prior to 2004, the dive resorts were based in Sipadan, with no permit system. It was a wonderful time for holidaymakers, but it proved to be unsustainable for the island’s ecosystem. In a bid to protect the area, the Malaysian Government made an order for Sipadan based dive resorts to be relocated by end-2004, and in April 2006, introduced the Sipadan permit system.

How are Sipadan permits issued?

The rights to issue permits is vested with Sabah Parks, which is limited to 120 permits daily (including divers and snorkelers) in a bid to minimize tourist “footprints” on the pristine island. These 120 permits are split among a handful of dive resorts and currently priced at RM140/permit, it was RM40 prior to 14 August 2018.

Recent press releases have reported that the government is temporarily increasing the number of Sipadan permits to a quota of 176 permits daily, taking into effect from May 2019. However, diving activity is restricted to 3 dives per diver as compared to the previous 4 daily dives.

This temporary measure is to satisfy the demands for more permits and at the same time, allowing authorities and researchers to assess any ecological impact it may have on the reefs and marine life.

Image source: sabahtourism.com
Image source: sabahtourism.com

How are Sipadan permits allocated?

176 daily permits is not a lot to go around considering the number of operators in the region accommodating up to thousands of guests daily (this is just our guess, resorts, hotels, hostels, backpacker lodges).

Sipadan permits assigned to dive resorts are often always reserved for their in-house guests. Many resorts now use a “rotation system” where permits are allocated to guests without prioritizing (assuming it’s available). Even so, not all guests are guaranteed a spot to visit Sipadan due to the limited nature of the permits. So you can’t just rock up unannounced requesting for a day’s excursion to Sipadan. You may just end up being disappointed.

Having said that, there are instances where some Sipadan permits are floating around the secondary market. Who knows? You may be lucky.

Image credit: Joe Starzz from Underwater Illusions
Image credit: Joe Starzz from Underwater Illusions

I desperately want a permit, what can I do?

Your chances of obtaining a Sipadan permit may increase by 3 main guidelines:

Plan and book ahead of time. 

It is best to book your holiday as early as possible. We suggest at least 2 months in advance, and probably longer if you are thinking of visiting during the peak season (May, July to August, October, Chinese New Year, Easter breaks, Christmas and New Year). So yeah, pretty much the majority of the year.

Sourcing permits from other operators

Not all dive operators are allocated permits by the government. Naturally, there exists a secondary market for these permits. If your dive operator is not one of the “assigned” resorts, they may still be able to procure a Sipadan permit for you at a premium. Expect Sipadan day trips to be priced at a region between RM900 to RM1300.

Book a longer stay

Dive packages booked with resorts do not include island day trips on arrival and departure day, you may want to consider at least a 4 or 5 days vacation.

Since Sipadan permits are known to be assigned via a “rotation system”, a longer stay at a resort will provide you a better chance of attaining one. On this premise, some resorts do provide somewhat of a guaranteed Sipadan permits. In rare instances, there may be large groups during peak season which exhausts all their permits.

Nonetheless, here are some resorts that offer you a significantly higher chance of procuring the precious Sipadan permits:

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Seaventures Dive Rig

“Guaranteed” Sipadan Permits: min. stay 4D3N

Dive packages from RM3,600 per person

kapalai exterior

Sipadan Kapalai Dive Resort

“Guaranteed” Sipadan Permits: min. stay 4D3N

Dive packages from RM4,181 per person

borneo divers jetty welcome

Borneo Divers Mabul Resort

“Guaranteed” Sipadan Permits: min. stay 5D4N

Dive packages from RM3,720 per person

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Mataking (The Reef) Dive Resort

“High chance” Sipadan Permits: min. stay 3D2N

Dive packages from RM2,650 per person

Are you looking for your next dive adventure to Sipadan Island, feel free to contact us or send us an enquiry for more information on the available packages with our ScubaHive price guarantee so you are sure to get the best possible deals. 🙂